Five ways to revamp your onboarding and improve staff retention

A masterclass in making sure new hires are delighted to join you
Kirsty Adams
Kirsty Adams

The great resignation, the great reshuffle, the war for talent - whatever you call it, in 2022, recruitment is still very much a candidate-led market. And the competition looks unlikely to let up in the coming months. Businesses are pushing up salaries in the quest to attract the best talent and yet few are looking seriously at what they can do to retain staff, especially from the very beginning.

Before new recruits even start at your business, you’re at risk of being out-bid by companies with bigger budgets. You need to create real stickiness from the moment you make a job offer; to start building a relationship even before your new hire turns up on day one. The best way to do this is with a stand-out onboarding process. Here are five ways you can make a real impact through onboarding.

1. Pre-onboarding

You’ve hooked the perfect hire. All you need to do is wait out their notice period, right? Wrong. The talent grab means candidates are still walking out, before they’ve even stepped foot through the door. So smart hiring managers are working on building a relationship from day zero.

We’re all human, and nothing beats that human connection. Send a personal note saying you’re looking forward to them joining. Offer to answer any questions and extend an invitation to a team social. This contact gives new recruits some insight into your company culture and an opportunity to connect with real people. It all helps create a sense of belonging before they even begin and reinforces their decision to join an organisation that cares about its people.

Tech giants such as Google and Salesforce are known for sending elaborate goody bags to new recruits. A small welcome gift is nice, but a steady flow of info is just as impactful – sales and marketing specialists IMPACT have created a pre-onboarding plan, which drip-feeds new starters relevant information in the weeks leading up to their start date.

2. Be prepared

Don’t let new starters take you by surprise - there’s nothing more disheartening than turning up to your new job only to feel like an inconvenience. Ensure the line manager has cleared some time for a proper welcome whether it’s virtual or in-person, and have some relevant introductions already booked into the calendar. Giving your new hire a leg-up in building key relationships will get them up to speed much faster, and they'll proactively start to build off the back of them.

Being prepared also means getting the IT up and running before your new recruit turns up, with equipment, passwords, and logins. Setting up an email address means they can have those meetings booked in their diary, and it’s easy to pop across any collateral that’ll be useful in their first few days.

Automating your onboarding through an app means you’re less likely to miss crucial information or admin tasks that need to be completed early on. Vodafone created its own onboarding app to guide new starters through the process, and to help them get up to speed on the company. You don’t need to design your own – there are many available off the shelf.

3. Over-communicate

Never underestimate how important communication is. You need to communicate something five times for it to really resonate with someone, according to Professor David Ulrich of the University of Michigan. And when you’re new, there’s so much information to take in, it helps to over-communicate those important details.

Make sure line managers are regularly checking in with new team members. Not just formally - a casual ‘how's it going?’ can make a huge difference. How’s your first week been? What's working? What's not? Off-the-cuff chats are also an opportunity for some positive feedback, and, equally, some guidance before any formal check-ins.

Communicating your expectations for the first 30, 60 or 90 days is also a great way to provide direction for your new hire. Instead of sending them off with a job description, give them actions that can be achieved during the first few months. This takes a bit more thought but is a great way to engage other parts of the business, and help new recruits feel they are contributing almost immediately.

Whiteboard software company Miro has created a 30-60-90 day plan for new hires based on the book ‘The First 90 Days’ by Michael Watkins. And Netflix has an onboarding programme that runs through a new starter’s first quarter.

4. Buddy-up

Assign your new starter a buddy from the off and they won’t just adapt faster, they’ll make fewer mistakes and follow a fast-track to full productivity. A buddy is not your line manager, or a mentor, but someone that knows the business inside-out. Someone who knows who to go to and how to get stuff done. It’s vital that they can provide help and guidance without being judgmental, and it helps if they can provide in-roads to the company’s social scene too.

Social media tool Buffer has taken this a step – or two – further with three onboarding buddies for every new hire – the hiring manager, a culture buddy and a role buddy. Each one is fully briefed on guiding and talking to their new colleague. And Apple has its famous iBuddy system for newbies.

5. Offboarding

It may seem converse to talk about offboarding while you’re onboarding, but how you treat your outgoing employees can tell new recruits a lot. And a robust offboarding process will help address issues that are affecting staff retention in the first place.

When someone is leaving, acknowledge it - thank them and wish them well. Make it clear that you appreciate people and the time they have put into your company. And make it a priority to conduct offboarding interviews - this is an opportunity to gather valuable information that you can use to make your company a better place to work.

If you’re asking the same questions to every leaver, you’ll soon have some trends and useful insights to work with. You can then make some data-led decisions on what improvements to make. You can even take this a step further and jump on the trend for stay interviews, to uncover changes that would encourage people to stay.

All the while, new recruits are absorbing these signals and evaluating whether or not they have made the right decision in coming to work for you. And final impressions will leave you open to boomerang employees - those that return after working elsewhere.

Finding examples of good offboarding is tricky – it’s a relatively new area, but it needs to be given careful consideration. At Resource Solutions we have an alumni - an active network of people who’ve worked for the organisation in the past. We share vacancies and get recommendations from them – and we’ve had a string of boomerang hires as a result.

Take onboarding seriously

According to Glassdoor, a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82 per cent and productivity by over 70 per cent. Employees are also more likely to stay with you longer if they’ve had a great onboarding experience. First impressions most definitely do count.

Good onboarding - and offboarding - takes time and resources, and is particularly challenging when people are busy. For onboarding to make a real difference, everyone needs buy-in - from HR and line managers to senior staff and your new recruit’s colleagues.

You might not get it right every time, but the key is to make a start and to make it personal.

Written by
Kirsty Adams
Written by
August 10, 2022